As it turns out, there aren’t 1,000
places to see before you die.
There’s just one. Kenya.
Two months ago I returned from a 10-day safari in East africa, and there hasn’t been a day since that I haven’t wished I was back in the vastness of Kenya with g.g., my safari guide and friend for life (yes, I know how corny that
sounds, but it’s true — Kenyans have a knack for becoming
an immediate part of your extended family).
the odd thing is, from the moment I stepped off the
safarilink plane onto african soil, I felt like I had already
been here. It was one of the strongest senses of déjà vu I
had ever experienced. since we were toddlers propped up
in front of the living-room tV watching Mutual of Omaha’s
Wild Kingdom, american children have been inundated with
the thrill and mystique of africa — impressions reinforced
through magazines, movies and theme parks. But in the
african bush, time has no relevance; those images beamed
at you as a child, of exotic wild beasts and ebony-colored
tribespeople dressed in radiant colors, are exactly the same
images you’ll see while on safari today.
when I mentioned my déjà vu sensation to g.g., he
replied, “Yes, we hear that often from our guests. Kenya is
the cradle of civilization, and many visitors feel a spiritual
connection to the land. Everyone on this planet can trace
their roots to the ground we’re standing on.”
THOSE LION EYES when our plane has to buzz the tiny
runway in meru national Park in order to shoo off a herd of
giraffes (“giraffes love runways,” the pilot says), everyone
on the plane looks out the windows and feels the same neophyte thrill: “there they are! wild animals! In africa!” Even
the makers of holly wood and Disney magic couldn’t come
close to the experience of being there. on the short drive
between the landing strip and our lodge we witness a zoo’s
worth of exotic animals.
as we near the lodge, already agog at the quantity of animals we’ve spotted in the first 15 minutes, our soft-spoken
guide, John, turns to us and says in his thick Kiswahili
accent, “Lions have been spotted back near the airport.
would you like to go see them?” and within 20 minutes of
arriving on safari in Kenya we are among lions.
A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A SAFARI GUEST It starts early,
at dawn, with a tap on your door. If there’s one thing Kenyans
have perfected, it’s the wake-up call. Every morning I am
greeted with a polite “good morning mr. Poole” and a tray
bearing rich Kenyan coffee and three cookies. after a quick
shower you don your safari outfit (how smashing you look in
that tilley hat), grab your camera and binoculars, meet your
guide at front of the lodge and embark on a morning safari.
Due to the intense heat, animals are more active in the
cooler mornings and evenings. after two thrilling hours
of photographing exotic game, you come around a corner
and voilà — breakfast in the bush. a separate staff vehicle
has prearranged a bounteous colonial-era-style breakfast,
accompanied by the sounds of wild things. “how would
you like your omelet, mr. Poole? more marmalade for your
English muffins? some fruit perhaps?” Yes, it’s surreal, and
absurdly ostentatious, and you love every minute of it.
Back at the lodge you change into a bathing suit and spend
an hour at the infinity pool, sipping freshly muddled mojitos
delivered to your lounge chair and rereading Out of Africa.